I finally have internet again – after 2 long months!!!! #firstworldproblems…..
I’m not going to lie – I truly enjoyed this time when my whole family was “unplugged” and we spent time with each other instead of in front of the screen. However, it was really hard to write and I have missed it! So today, I am starting a four-part series on Gideon, as found in Judges 6-8. So let’s dig in!
The Book of Judges describes the time when the judges judged Israel; it begins with the death of Joshua and ends with Samuel and the anointing of Saul. The dates for this time period are highly debated, but begins somewhere between 15th century – 1208 BC and ends late 11th century. This time period is described as tumultuous at best, and is ruled by chaos in the lives of the Israelites. When Moses and Joshua led the Israelites into the promised land of Canaan, God had told them to “devote… to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the LORD your God has commanded,” in Deuteronomy 20:17. In v18, God goes on to explain that is it “so that they may not teach you to do according to all their detestable things with they have done for their gods, so that you would sin against the LORD your God.” See, the time of the Canaanites was fulfilled while the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. God gave them 400+ years to turn from their evil ways and repent of their sin – which included child sacrifices and some horrific worship practices of the gods Baal, Asherah, and El. But they didn’t, and so God’s command to the Israelites to completely destroy them was His judgement on these evil people, while at the same time, was His blessing to His covenant people. But when Israel did not listen to God’s directive, they chose a future that was rife with attacks from the Canaanites as well as being led astray by the Canaanite peoples, just as God predicted. Therefore, the time of the judges is a time when the Israelites were constantly under attack from the foreign tribes of Canaan; a time when they strayed from God unless they needed Him desperately, and only then until they were delivered.
God delivered them through the “judges.” These judges were not judges as we understand them; rather the word and their official capacity leans more toward the word we would use, “deliverers.” If we look at Judges 2:16-19, we can identify three characteristics of the judges of Israel:
- YHWH is the source of the judges’ authority; they were anointed by the Spirit of God to complete a specific purpose
- Their capacities were solely for salvation of Israel – not judicial.
- They were instruments of deliverance from external enemies only. As soon as their purpose was fulfilled, time and again, the whole of Israel slides back into corruption and chaos.
They were leaders of Israel, empowered by God, to deliver Israel or specific tribes of Israel from external enemies. Some of them, like Deborah, were prophets and may have acted in a judicial capacity, but most were warrior leaders called by God for a specific time. As we turn to Judges 6, we turn to a time of Israelite history when they were very assimilated into Canaanite culture, including the worship of Canaanite gods. Please turn with me to Judges 6:1-6:
The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian seven years. 2 And the hand of Midian overpowered Israel, and because of Midian the people of Israel made for themselves the dens that are in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds. 3 For whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them. 4 They would encamp against them and devour the produce of the land, as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey. 5 For they would come up with their livestock and their tents; they would come like locusts in number—both they and their camels could not be counted—so that they laid waste the land as they came in. 6 And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel cried out for help to the Lord.
Please look again at v1a and what the author said was happening in Israel: they did what was evil in the sight of the LORD. By this time, the people were blatantly worshiping the gods of the Canaanites: Baal, El, and Ashera. They had built altars to these false gods, made sacrifices to them – children sacrifices, burnt sacrifices, – and completely left the one true God who brought them out of slavery. They truly were doing evil in the sight of the LORD. So what happened? V1b says, “and the LORD gave them into the hand of Midian seven years.” And then vv2-6 goes on to describe exactly what was happening. There was a pattern that would happen – the Midianites would descend upon the Israelites during the harvest times and steal all their harvest. Food was growing, animals flourishing, but there was nothing left after the Midianites came through. So the Israelites were starving. Their pain was great, and so for seven years they ran afraid into the hills, caves, and rocks at each harvest, only to starve throughout the winter. Then we hear in v6b that Israel was brought very low; this means that they were not only very poor financially and without food, but also their spirits were very low. Both physically and spiritually was Israel beaten. But only then, when they were totally broken, did they call out for help from the LORD. Notice no mention was made of forgiveness – only that they cried out for help.
This section teaches us a hard and potent lesson: when we do what is evil in the sight of the LORD – not the sight of society or the law, but evil in the sight of the Lord – there will come a time when God will give us over to the consequences of our actions. You are God’s child, upon whom He pours His grace and protection, but when you live outside His will for so long and do not heed the multiple warnings that He gives you – from His Spirit who convicts your heart, from His people who speak His words of warning, from your parents or friends – He will lift that hedge of protection that He has placed around you and you will reap the consequences of your actions.
I have written and spoken multiple times about being a single mom at age 16. I had a boyfriend for two years in high school, one whom I thought I would marry, so it was no big deal when we began to act as if we were already married. It was not a surprise that I was doing wrong. God convicted me numerous times, He used my parents, sister and friends to tell me I was doing wrong, He spoke to me through Bible teachers multiple times, but I refused to listen. Know this and know it well – God will only tolerate your sin for so long until He allows you reap the consequences of it, whether they be natural consequences like getting pregnant, or getting caught by your parents for drinking, or even the police for underage drinking or smoking or doing drugs or whatever the thing might be. You will get caught in the snare you have made, and you have no one to blame but yourself.
I tell you this because I want you to know and understand that God does not ask us to abstain from sin because He doesn’t want us to have fun or to miss out on experiences; He asks us to refrain from certain activities because He knows they could ruin your life. He knows that it only takes one time to drink and drive before you could kill yourself or someone else and your life ends – whether through death or behind bars. He knows that it only takes on time having sex before marriage to get pregnant, get and STD, or to get hurt. He doesn’t want you to have to deal with any of those issues, so He asks you to stay away from them. Just like He did the Israelites; they didn’t heed His request nor His warnings, and so He lifted the hedge of protection and allowed the Midianites to fall upon them with a vengeance. Finally, after 7 years of being plundered by the Midianites, the Israelites call out to God – they don’t repent, but they at least return to Him and remember that He is the true God of Israel. And immediately upon hearing their cries, God answers. Turn with me to Judges 6:7-10 as we hear God’s response:
7 When the people of Israel cried out to the Lord on account of the Midianites, 8 the Lord sent a prophet to the people of Israel. And he said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of slavery. 9 And I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you and gave you their land. 10 And I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.’ But you have not obeyed my voice.”
V7 tells us that God answered through a prophet and recounted God’s faithfulness to Israel in bringing them out of slavery. Then v10 says, “And I said to you, ‘I am the LORD your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.’ But you have not obeyed my voice.”
When we are living righteously in relationship with God, we have NOTHING to fear! Over and over again, more than 100 times in the Bible, we are told not to be afraid because God is with us. But as we know, the Israelites were not living righteously with God, as v10 ends with, “but you have not obeyed my voice.” I don’t know about you, but I shudder at those words. I have been on the receiving end of those words, and how I pray that you choose differently. It is a hard road to walk – one that God can and will redeem and use when we finally reach the end of our metaphorical 7 years – but a hard road all the same.
Can I just say how amazing is it that even though these people were completely unfaithful to God in every way – committing heinous acts and worshiping others gods – God heard their cries and answered them – even though they did not repent, but rather asked for help in the midst of their wrongdoing. God not only heard them, but acknowledged their cries with words through His prophet and then helped them. So as much as I want you to know that your actions have consequences, I want you to know this every bit as well or even better – just like the Israelites, the second you cry out to God, He will be there to rescue you or to walk beside you through whatever consequences you have brought upon yourself. As bad as the Israelites were, God never forsook them. The Bible tells us over and over and over that nothing you can ever do will cause God to leave you, either. One of my favorite verses is out of Romans 8:38-39: For I am convinced that neither life nor death, nor angels nor principalities, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. God does not leave us to walk through the consequences of our actions alone; He loves us so much that He will not only help us through them, but will oftentimes use them to bless us. So let’s see how God helped Israel get out of their mess in vv11-12:
11 Now the angel of the Lord came and sat under the terebinth at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites. 12 And the angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.”
Ok, a little context here: the angel of the LORD came to Gideon. The Hebrew words for “angel of the Lord,” is Mal’ak YHWH and means an officially sanctioned spokesperson for one in a higher office – specifically of YHWH. Due to Gideon’s reaction and words later in the Scripture, there is some debate as to whether this was a messenger angel or the actual pre-incarnate Christ himself. Gideon fears for his life because he believes he has seen God face-to-face; we do not know if it was an angel or one of the Holy Trinity that came to Gideon; what we do know is that this person spoke the words of God himself. So, this messenger of God came to Gideon as He was threshing the wheat – beating the stalks so everything on the stalk fell to the floor; then they would throw what dropped off the stalk into the air, and the chaff floated away and the heavy kernels of wheat would fall back to the ground to be harvested. But what is interesting is that Gideon was threshing wheat – not in the threshing floor, which was the norm, but in the wine press so as to hide from the Midianites. So here is this man, hiding from his enemies and an angel of God comes to him and says, “The LORD is with you, o mighty man of valor! (v12).” Does anyone find that funny but me?! He’s acting like a coward, hiding from his enemies instead of standing up and fighting, and the angel calls him a “mighty man of valor.” God does not see us as we are in our present circumstances, but rather He calls us the person He knows we can be. He does not call us who we think we are, He calls us who He made us to be. He calls out of us the person He created us to become. He does not see you as your lowest failure, but sees you in the moments of your greatest victory! Our identity is not wrapped up in our feelings or emotions or the lies that the world and those in it tells us we are; it is in voice of God who whispers that we are His greatest masterpiece. I don’t know if that encourages you, but it makes my heart soar! Every time I bumble the opportunity God has given me, He does not call me “Failure,” He does not call me “inadequate.” No. And neither does He call you. Rather, He calls us “Mighty, Warrior, Courageous, One of Valor,” Mighty Victors! I hope you take away the knowing that God has called you to a mighty destiny and He has placed within you everything you need to fulfill it. Amen! Let’s continue in our narrative in Judges 6:13-18:
13 And Gideon said to him, “Please, sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” 14 And the LORD turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” 15 And he said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” 16 And the LORD said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.” 17 And he said to him, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, then show me a sign that it is you who speak with me. 18 Please do not depart from here until I come to you and bring out my present and set it before you.” And he said, “I will stay till you return.”
At first glance, it seems that Gideon is being respectful, but the original translation indicates that he is being a bit snarky, if not blatantly cynical. Basically, he cuts to the heart of the matter: Where is YHWH when you need him? In v13, Gideon answers his own question with two statements that he believes thoroughly: God has abandoned Israel and has given them to Midian. He places the blame squarely on the shoulders of God instead of taking responsibility for Israel’s unrighteousness.
Through this little section, we can know a bit about Gideon; he came from the weakest tribe, and was the weakest one in his family. By his own words, he was weak, questioning, scared, nervous, and had so little self-worth that he didn’t even believe it when an angel, when God Himself told him otherwise. Gideon cannot imagine beyond his own resources; he does not yet realize that in YHWH’s work, social standing makes not matter – it is His authorizations that is the only thing needed. So in Gideon’s fear and doubt, he puts God to the test. He gathers up an offering that he deems worthy and places it before the messenger, who then takes over in vv19-24:
19 So Gideon went into his house and prepared a young goat and unleavened cakes from an ephah of flour. The meat he put in a basket, and the broth he put in a pot, and brought them to him under the terebinth and presented them. 20 And the angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened cakes, and put them on this rock, and pour the broth over them.” And he did so. 21 Then the angel of the Lord reached out the tip of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened cakes. And fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened cakes. And the angel of the Lord vanished from his sight. 22 Then Gideon perceived that he was the angel of the Lord. And Gideon said, “Alas, O Lord God! For now I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face.” 23 But the Lord said to him, “Peace be to you. Do not fear; you shall not die.” 24 Then Gideon built an altar there to the Lord and called it, The Lord Is Peace. To this day it still stands at Ophrah, which belongs to the Abiezrites.
Gideon brought God an offering and the angel of the LORD brought fire from a rock to consume the offering and then he vanished from Gideon’s sight. Customarily, for God to consume an offering, it was a sign of acceptance and affirmation; however, Gideon saw it and thought the opposite – he feared for his life. That is why we see God speaking to him a second time and telling him to have peace. Gideon thought he would die because he had seen God’s face, but God made sure he understood that not only was he loved by God, but he was called. It was only then that Gideon believed that God was truly speaking to him and calling him to save Israel and so he built an altar to God, which the author tells is still standing and the reader can verify the facts by checking out the altar themselves.
As I read Gideon’s story, I wonder how many times to we hear from God and yet, we question whether or not it is Him? That is why it is so important for us to spend time with God’s Word and in prayer and listening for God every day – so that when God speaks to us, we will clearly hear His message and know it to be His Words.
- We must be in God’s Word because God will never speak something to us that goes against the truths found in the Scripture. Never. We will know if it is not Him based on that alone.
- We must pray and listen for God’s voice, because the more time we spend with Him, the easier it becomes to recognize Him.
Under continual oppression, the people finally sought out their God; He was ready to deliver them, but waited until they saw their own need. Once they did, He answered them immediately and chose a deliverer who was hiding from his enemies in a wine press. God uses us, not because we are equipped to be victors, but because we are willing. He chooses us because through our weakness His incredible power and might shines through. Truthfully, we are not the victors – Gideon was not the victor. God is. But like the angel told Gideon in v14, God has put His spirit within us and calls us to rise into victory upon His wings and take that which He gives us: a mighty destiny and an inconceivable adventure. You, like Gideon, are called. You, like him as well, are given a choice. It is up to you whether you choose to live up to the name, “Might One of Valor.” You have been chosen for a specific destiny and God has placed it within you to be victorious; so what will your choice be?
With so much love and many blessings,